So You Want To Be An Editor

Recently, I was joking about how I want a 1920/30’s movie about some paranormal or occultish investigators, similar to a Call of Cthulhu game.  I threw out the title ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ and said that might actually make a good title for an anthology.  It was mentioned that I should make that anthology and instantly my mood changed from a joking “What if” to a very serious “Oh, hell no.”

Being an editor is a lot of work. And by that I mean, BEING AN EDITOR IS A METRIC SHITTON OF HARD WORK.

It can be fun to imagine what titles or collections you might produce if you were in charge of some press, but it’s a huge responsibility that I am more than happy to let better suited people handle.  Just to be clear, when I say “Editor,” I’m not just referring to the basic line-editor that many people imagine.  I’m referring to the Grand Poobah Editor-in-Chief that for most publications means that they are Line-Editor, Layout Supervisor, Publicist, Author Relations, Payroll, and a dozen other duties all rolled into one.


Pictured:  Standard Editor

The cost and ease of e-publishing and print on demand has given many people the opportunity to don the Editor Hat and try their hand at it.  For many, this is good. For many others, this is a terrible idea.

I’ve worked with several editors in my limited time in the industry. I’ve worked with award-winning veterans and I’ve worked with first-time newbies.  Strangely, the experiences with them are the opposite of what you might expect.  But with all of those experiences, let me break down what a would-be editor needs to understand before they take that step.


Thanks to the Internet, making a call for submissions will get you a lot of exposure and many authors will send you their work.  How many, you ask.  About 300.  That’s for the first one, before the real word gets out, and then you can expect many times that during each submission period.


This is why some publications are only open for submissions for like 4 weeks a year.  In that window they get enough to allow them to spend the next 48 weeks reading.  For the would-be-editor, this means that if you make a call for submissions, don’t do the classic, “We close for subs on this date, and expect a release within the next 30 days,” because that ain’t happenin’.  You will be flooded with submissions to read and that’s before we even get to the part where you edit them.


Yeah, I said it.  I’m an author and I know my kind.  I like to think that I’m pretty chill with my editors, but I’ve spoken to enough editors and heard enough horror stories to know that there’s a whole lotta drama with authors.

Jack Shining

Pictured:  Standard Author

Evidently, many authors will hostilely resist any changes to their work.  I understand the, “This story is my art and you can’t change it,” mentality, but here’s the deal: An editor edits.  That’s what they do.  That’s why the job is called Editor.

An editor not only wants each story to be the best that they can be (They are running a business and great stories are good for business) but they want to keep the readers’ attention and keep the story going at a good flow.  They make suggestions and those suggestions should be good.  Still, a lot of authors evidently go shit-house-mad when an editor comes back with, “There are some changes I’d like to suggest.”  The thing is, they’re suggestions from someone who is looking at the story from the outside and knows the industry.  This should be considered sage advice, and not worthy of vile contempt.

One of the reasons that authors should put previous writing credits on their cover letters isn’t just to brag that someone other than their mom thought that they were good, it’s a way to say, “Hey, I’m cool.  I understand how this goes. I’ve worked with editors before. I’m not as likely to go crazy on you.”

And it’s not just the editing where authors can go nuts.  You can expect about a million, “Hey, did you get my submission?” and “Hey, did you read my submission yet?” and “Hey, I haven’t heard back, is this email address correct?” and “Why haven’t you read my submission yet when I know you have it?” emails.  If the project gets delayed because life happened, or your slush pile is bigger than expected, or whatever else, expect the number of, “Hey, when is it coming out?” emails to exponentially explode.

Helpful Hint:  Publicly post dates and changes where authors can see them.  It might suck to admit a delay, but in the long run it will calm the masses and allow less time responding to check-in emails and more time for editing.

Speaking of Editing….


I’m going to keep names out of this, but about 2 minutes of research on my site will tell you if you just really need to know who I’m talking about.  My very first sale was to a well-known magazine with a highly regarded editor.  He was the first to take the risk on me and I’ll always be grateful for that.  He was also a terrible editor.

My first story was accepted August of 2005.  I was told it might be a while before it hits print.  That is 100% of the information I had, and if I had known the truth, I’d still have accepted it because it was my first sale and a huge one at that.  The time between acceptance and print was two and a half years.  After thirty months of waiting, my story was printed February 2008.  During that entire time I received exactly zero edit requests and my story was printed with no changes from the one I submitted.  That year, the same editor was nominated for a Best Editor award.

My second story was picked up by an editor going by the handle Crystalwizard (and yes I’m going to use her name because she is freakin’ awesome and deserves to have more people talk about her).  She was editor for Flashing Swords, a very unknown magazine.  She picked up The Porvov Switch and within a couple months sent me the first round of edit requests.  My manuscript was so red that, “looked like it was bleeding,” barley gives it justice.  I quickly made the changes and sent it back.  The next day she sent me Round 2 that was just as marked up as Round 1.  Then came Round 3, followed by Round 4.  Each time she meticulously went through that story and tore it to hell and together we built it back better than it had ever been.  By the time it was done, we had a great story.

Crystalwizard and I worked on several more stories and each time she threw it through the grinder.  Yes, we disagreed. Yes, she was usually right.  Yes, it was exactly what I wanted an editor to do.  She is a badass and treated her small obscure magazine with the passion and detail that you’d expect from any large house publisher.

Anyone serious about editing needs to do that.  It’s not just typos.  It’s the whole package.  You need to make sure everything is crystal clear, check for overusing words, passive voice, unrealistic physics, continuity, and everything else a story needs.  If you can’t edit, don’t be an editor.


There are some scam publishers that think anthologies are great because they know that the friends and family of each author will pick up about 5-6 copies.  You publish 10 authors per anthology and you just guaranteed 50-60 sales.  Bam! Free marketing, right?



Self Promote“You know what has two thumbs and just released the best book ever?  This guy!”

An editor must promote that work more than everyone else combined.  They need to send copies out to reviewers.  They need to blast social media. And if they have the budget, they should buy some ad space where they think it will be the most effective.  Simply expecting your authors to do the promotion for you is lazy and outright inexcusable.  If you want to sell more books, make more money, win that award, and quit your day job and became an industry rock-star, you’re going to need to go out there and work it.  You’ll have to give books away.  You’ll have to spend money, time, and energy on getting people to notice it.  The publishing house is your show.  The authors are merely guest stars. Their careers will grow without you.  So you need to promote yourself and your publishing house more than all of them.


Publishing books, even ebooks, is really expensive.  You have to spend a lot of time and you have to get some sweet art (Helpful Hint: Don’t ever cheap out on the art).  This has led a lot of startup presses to pay their authors with “exposure”.

I’ll be honest, if your sales pitch to me includes the word exposure, I’m going to walk away.  No shit there’s exposure.  That part is assumed.  Any press will give me exposure.  No, if you want to be in the business you gotta make it a business and pay your talent.  As you grow, increase your rates.  Make your goal to be one of those publishers on the SFWA Qualifying Market List.  If you, as an editor, want exposure for your press, that list is a serious spotlight.  Make getting on that list your goal.

Also, promising to pay your authors and actually paying your authors should not be separate things.  Remember that award-winning and well-respected editor I was telling you about?  Two months after my story hit print (32 months after he accepted it) I had to send an email asking when I would get paid.  He apologized and sent me my money.  All was forgiven, but the mere fact that I had to remind him to pay me was unnecessarily awkward and unprofessional.  I might have even forgotten about that as some 1-time fluke if it wasn’t for the fact that I never got edit requests.  As an editor you not only have to pay your authors, but you have to instigate it.


So you think that you can spend a couple years busting your butt reading slush, handling authors, line-editing, promoting, and keeping your bookkeeping straight before you make enough cash and reputation that you can just pay people for that and then just live the high life collecting Hugos and teaching workshops?  Guess again. 

I’ve spent enough time with editors to know that the job constantly changes and while some parts will get much better, it will never get easy.  The industry changes. Drama happens.  The market slumps. A million factors will happen and the editor must stay on top of it or fail. It’s a full-time job. It always will be.

So once again, while I think the world needs ‘Fedoras, Flappers, Tommyguns, and Tentacles’ I’m not the man to make it happen.  I’m very grateful that there are people who can look at the job of Editor, knowing everything it entails, and think, “Oh yeah, I can totally own that shit,” because that isn’t me.




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